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Mother of Exiles

Lawrence Bush
February 18, 2018

On this day in 1879, U.S. design patent #11023 was granted to Frederic Auguste Bartholdi of Paris, France for “a female figure standing erect upon a pedestal or block . . . The body is clothed in the classical drapery or stola . . . The right arm is thrown up and stretched out with a flamboyant torch grasped in the hand . . .” Erected in New York Harbor in 1886, Bartholdi’s “Liberty Enlightening the World” would thrill some two million Jewish immigrants entering the U.S. in the subsequent three decades. In 1903, this Statue of Liberty’s pedestal was graced by a sonnet, “The New Colossus,” written by Emma Lazarus, which committed America to be a welcoming home for the “tired,” “the poor,” “the homeless, tempest-tossed.”

“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles.” —Emma Lazarus

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.